Choosing a Music Teacher: Six Questions to Ask

 by Aaron Sizemore

Piano class

How does one go about choosing a music teacher? This is an intimidating conundrum for parents who aren't musically inclined themselves. It can be even more overwhelming for parents who themselves took music lessons as children, but didn't have such a great experience. The last thing they want is to see their child subjected to an uninspiring relic of a teacher, or, worse, a sadistic, tough-talking taskmaster (see the movie "Whiplash" for an exaggerated example).

Given the layers of mystery and even snobbery that all too often surround music education, novice parents might even assume that bad teaching is just the way things are supposed to be. Not so, of course -- great opportunities do, in fact, exist. You just need to ask the right questions. Start with these:


 1. Are your teachers actual employees?

The answer might surprise you.

Believe it or not, the answer will often be, "No." It's true. Most places that offer lessons - even some places that call themselves music schools - don't actually employ their teachers. They simply rent studio space to them. This kind of arrangement doesn't allow for any kind oversight. Although it's possible to find a good independent teacher through these channels, the lack of accountability, policies and standards can make this a risky option. 

2. Are you primarily a music store or a teaching facility?

You want the focus to be on education, not retail.

In addition to the fact that retail music stores almost always use independent contractors for teachers, they usually lack any kind of administrative staff. There's a store manager and some sales people, but that's it. Music schools -- places that devote all their resources to teaching -- are always the better bet. Look for an organization that actually has a team of people collaborating to provide a great educational experience.

3. Do you offer opportunities for students to perform and collaborate?

Music is a language. Without outlets for communication you'll be missing out.

Look for a school with its own performance space and rooms for group activities. Ask how often performances occur and how students go about participating. If the answers you hear give the impression of a strong culture of communication, collaboration and performance, be impressed. This is rare.

4. Do your teachers participate in any kind of professional development?

Any well-organized school that focuses on quality should answer, "yes."

But don't stop there. Ask for some examples. For example, do teachers meet regularly with administrators to evaluate performance and establish goals? 

5. Do your teachers share a common curriculum or approach, or does everyone do his or her own thing?

This is key. Good teaching requires a well thought out plan.

Individuals or organizations that provide music education need to have done their homework. While great teaching requires flexibility and innovation, it also requires structure and planning. Music schools that use established curricula show that they have put thought into different approaches to teaching. This is a good sign. Music Schools that have actually created their own curriculum are even more impressive and rare.

6. Do you regularly evaluate your students' progress?

Good teachers set goals and standards. Great teachers constantly evaluate results.

Why do they do this? Because they want to improve the quality of the teaching and learning that is taking place. It's an ongoing process. Be sure to ask any prospective teacher how he or she goes about doing this.


Music House School of Music has locations in Overland Park and Lenexa. Its team of 11 administrators and 30 teachers work with over 650 students every week.

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Written by
Aaron Sizemore

Aaron sizemore

Co-founder & Executive Director at Music House